‘Opening of Kartarpur corridor is a religious overture … Pakistan won’t allow anyone to use it for political reasons’
The 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev and the opening of the Kartarpur corridor is a significant occasion for devotees in India and across the world. The preparations in the Punjab province of Pakistan, where the main gurdwaras associated with Guru Nanak are situated – Kartarpur Sahib, Nankana Sahib, and Panja Sahib – are being overseen by the governor of the province, Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar. With the bilateral dialogue between the two countries suspended over the Kashmir issue, he tells Yudhvir Rana that the occasion could help sink differences between the countries.
Why didn’t Pakistan consider opening all gurdwaras to devotees instead of giving access to just Kartarpur Sahib?
The first step was to give access to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur Sahib. As a Muslim, if I am 4 km from Medina and I can only look at the holiest of holy places through a pair of binoculars and cannot visit, imagine how I would feel.
The Sikhs have waited for 70 years for this corridor to materialise and we are happy to open it for the faithful. Pakistan is spending Rs 15 billon (Pakistani rupees) on the project, including construction of new roads and bridges, and this is happening at a time when the Indo-Pak relations are very tense. But we have always maintained that we will not jeopardise the corridor project.
Gurdwara Darbar Sahib initially was on 4 acres of land and we expanded it to 42 acres. Recently, we also included 62 acres, cultivated by Baba Nanak, to the complex. Pakistan will not use even a single inch of Baba Nanak’s land for commercial purposes. And the $20 service fee doesn’t meet even a fraction of the expenses incurred by the Pakistan government to provide facilities to the yatris.
There is apprehension that Sikh separatists could misuse the occasion of Baba Nanak’s
550th birth anniversary and opening of the
Kartarpur corridor to boost their agenda.
We are morally supporting people of Kashmir, but Pakistan has no intention of interfering in what is going on in India. I want to assure everyone that Pakistan will not use or allow anyone to use the religious occasion for any negativity or political reasons. Opening of the Kartarpur corridor is purely a religious overture.
We believe and realise that people-to-people relations between Pakistanis and Indians are very strong. People of any religion – Hindu, Sikh, Christian or others – who visit Pakistan for pilgrimage, business or for holidays, receive a warm welcome from people here and so is the case with the Pakistanis visiting India.
Baba Nanak’s birth anniversary and the opening of the corridor, which I call peace corridor, will help people of both the nations to come closer. They will go back with the message of peace, compassion and respect and, in the long run, it will bring the two neighbours together.
Will there be any kind of visa relaxation for the Sikh community?
Conceding to the demand of the international Sikh community, barring those from India, Pakistan will issue 45-day multiple entry visas. Now, a Sikh permanent resident of the United States, Canada, or any country apart from India can visit Pakistan, go to India and come back again, not once but several times within a period of 45 days. This was one of the major demands of the international Sikh community. The facility has been made available to non-resident Indian Sikhs, who are permanent residents of other countries. We will contemplate issuing multiple entry visas to Indian Sikhs in future if there is any demand.
Will Pakistan open rest of the historical gurdwaras and temples for Indians to visit?
I have instructed all regional commissioners to make a list of all the gurdwaras and Hindu temples and prepare a report on what kind of repairs are required. Once the report is received, we will repair, renovate and preserve all these religious places.
Not just Hindu and Sikh religious places, we have constituted a committee for religious tourism and heritage, of which I am the chairman, and we will also preserve all the religious places of Christians, Buddhists and Islamic heritage and invite people to visit their religious places in Pakistan. Looking after minority communities is our top priority. India too should relax the visa regime so that people from Pakistan could visit their holy shrines in India.